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Posts from the ‘Nóra Bükki Gálla’ Category


Nóra Bükki Gálla

Generations of choreographers thought music was a painful limitation to their work, so they escaped it. How? Well, they invented many clever ways. Using experimental works were one good option, sound recordings hardly recognizable as music – and of course there is the absolutely honest and inscrutable solution of not using music at all (variations include spoken texts, breathing and other noises the performers make). If none of those things seem possible, you still have the option of simply ignoring the piece of music that is played during the performance. And that’s it – one thing nobody does today is dancing to music. Making a dance piece with the particular aim of illustrating music is so very unthinkable…

…that actually it’s worth a try.

That is what French choreographer Maud Le Pladec must have considered when she decided to do a piece for the eerie and unsettling sound-mix of Fausto Romitelli, Professor Bad Trip. The composition is based on violin and electric guitar tunes, manipulated and amplified to the point of becoming a chaotic rumbling. The soundtrack itself consists of three parts; this structure is reflected in the choreography, offering multiple layers of meaning. We keep bumping into the iconic number three: there are three lectures of the’ Professor’, each lecture being announced by a narrator’s voice; there are three black-clad figures, very similar as the music suggests, still not identical. We also have three types of activity that these figures are engaged in: dance, mime-like everyday gestures and the actual making of live music (one of them is playing an electric guitar backstage, producing soundwaves instead of tunes). The stage is divided into two by an important third element: a black curtain revealing and hiding the dancers as their movement is conducted by the absolute dominance of music.

The first lecture is about pure dance: a solitary figure acts out the sounds and notes of music. Movements are modulated and tuned in a way to not only reflect on, but actually and in a very literal way perform music, spell it out with motions that are connected to everyday gestures, but still are made abstract in order to match the music’s ambiguous quality. Movements are clever and articulated, even ironic and inventive in the sense the music is. Le Pladec does not aim to exceed the limits set by the soundtrack but manages to cover this specific audiovisual terrain with a playfulness of movement that enriches the piece.

The second lecture leads us toward a more theater-like experience: the curtain at the back of the stage opens up to reveal a second figure playing a guitar. A strange hide and seek scene enfolds in which all three dancers make their appearance – in their similarity they look like they are actually one person in three different bodies, making the game puzzling and entertaining at the same time. The third lecture is on acting: the three figures are engaged in different poses, using excessive gestures and facial expressions; they face the audience and play ping-pong with the sounds of the music or move the other one like he was a life-size puppet.
The scenes seem to lead to nowhere in particular but then the music does the same: it arches from quietly weird to disturbingly abstract without offering an easy reading. Professor is a strictly formalist piece leading in a witty line from dance to theatre, from the graspable to the abstract and from the two dimensions of music and dance to a third of multiple interpretations, still with the clear intention of being no more than what it is: an embodiment of the music that inspired it in the first place.


Nóra Bükki Gálla

Another one of the experimental pieces presented by the iDans festival, 1:Songs blends sound, image and motion to create a multidimensional vision of what it means to be a woman. German theater maker Nicole Beutler devises a curious on-stage operation in which the feminine psyche is being dissected.

The performer, Sanja Mitrovic, hides behind a line of 5 microphones. In the background black and white photos are projected on a screen: a dark line of people, a woman running and falling to the ground. The images are shown from different angles, dissolving into black shapes and patches then zooming into focus again.

Music is the only companion of the performer in her lonesome voyage of emotions; Gary Shepherd’s pulsing machine-music ranges from soft pop tunes to a monotonous hammering. The performance resembles a concert, lyrics are taken from lines of tragic drama characters like Antigone or Medea. Like in a good concert, there is plenty of space for interaction with the audience (the performer says after the first shocking song: ‘Are you with me?’ or asks someone in the first row to sing with her). Mitrovic plays with her voice like it was an instrument: she screams, hisses, barks and howls as the dynamics of the piece requires.

Beutler uses a minimized movement vocabulary close to everyday gestures, conveying an ironic message: stylized, over-acted dancing between songs or robot-like motions when the performer sings about having a heart.

Like in a concert, the audience is rewarded by an extra song at the end. Thinking back we got the whole classic set of female conflicts of love and hate, desire and repulsion played out in words, gestures and screams, still the question remains whether we learned anything new about what it means to be a woman. Probably not.

Completing the Circle

Nóra Bükki Gálla

An obvious way for self-definition is to reach back in time and compare ourselves to what we find there. Or better yet, set past and present next to each other and let the comparison be done by the observer. This is exactly what Ecuadorian dancer Fabian Barba does; he takes one of the key figures of modern dance, Mary Wigman, and re-invents her figure with enormous care and historic accuracy, so that we have a precise base for comparison and a good excuse to re-think the present.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of the performance is the fact that a woman’s role is danced by a man. The series of solos represent a shift of Wigman’s attitude and compositional values from a strictly formulated and clearly genderless motion language to a more dramatic and emotional quality, but the basis remains the same: for Wigman dance is an act of worship, an ethereal experience which the dancer shares with her audience. This explains the lack of dynamic movement and the domination of expressive hand gestures. Circling motion is a representation of a divine perfection while spinning shows ecstasy.

The 5-7 minute pieces are connected by soft piano music from the background, as if Wigman was dancing on behind the stage and each piece is concluded by an authentic bow taken from films and other documentation Barba used to revive Wigman’s work. The same meticulous care is applied to costumes and music – several times we hear scratchy old recordings which add to the feeling of alienation and detachment.

We are not surprised when the applause brings the dancer on stage again only to repeat two of the etudes. Barba is true to the image he worked out for himself and interprets Wigman with extreme submissiveness. His is an analytical remake, not a constructive one. In Barba’s interpretation Wigman doesn’t want to impress – she simply wants to be. And that is what connects her to contemporary dance and contemporary dancers like Fabian Barba. Even though he lacks the charismatic character and does not feel like the powerful and mature performer we would imagine Wigman to be – still he manages to evoke the past and lets us compare I to the present. And that is the first step n the voyage. A good starting point.

Experiences Limited – All Spoilers, No Criticism

Nóra Bükki Gálla

We met in a 5 star hotel’s bar overlooking the city and were told that shortly we will be taken to a high class residential project to be presented as a group of European investors. We didn’t have much time to invent a story of rich aunts and inherited fortunes. As it turned out, we didn’t need one. But just in case.

Gated communities, we were told, are a big issue in Istanbul because they are in the middle of the city, rich folks throwing their richness into poor people’s faces. Barbed wire fences, bulky security guards, cameras everywhere – such places are possible to access. Unless you want to join the club, of course. Our two facilitators, Anat Eisenberg and Mirko Winkel got an appointment for us for two such projects, dividing the group between two high rise buildings both nearly finished.

We spent the next hour listening to marketing slogans, looking at 3D models and trotting in plastic wrapped shoes upon marble floors of apartments with the price tag of several million dollars, gaped at the Bosporus view from the 66th floor. Having asked all the questions we could come up with, we thanked the salesman, took our minibus and off we went.

So. Was this a performance? Did it have anything to do with dance and choreography? Can such things be called art at all? Whatever the answer, for me personally this was something to take home to remember. Unsettling, liberating, scary, provocative. I keep thinking about the connection of architecture and prestige and wonder whether we all live such gated lives, limited by our own circumstances, preferences and social status. Or is it preconceptions and sheer snobbishness? Mmm. I mean, the gates should be open, shouldn’t they? Or if not, we should at least know that they exist.

But anyway.

Note to the architect: Beware. People want the price tag, not well designed spaces to live in. Now that is something to elaborate on…

Sanja Mitrovic, Will You Ever Be Happy Again

Nóra Bükki Gálla

In films it is always Germans playing the bad guys and they always lose in the end – that is the stereotype director and stage performer Sanja Mitrovic starts her documentary piece with. Following her narrative we enter a world of personal and collective memory to re-think roles, cliches and sympathies.

Mitrovic finished her philology studies in Serbia to move to the Netherlands where she continues to make theatre performances with a strong social and emotional awareness. Her stage is a micro-world of pressing cultural and political issues that can be regarded in a broader international context.

Will You Ever Be Happy Again is presented as a collection of childhood games revived; the two players on stage (Jochen Stechmann is there to show us the German side of the coin) finish playing Partisans versus Nazis to indulge in a series of role games. We get to see Mitrovic’s childhood drawings of bombs, fires and victorious Yugoslavian heroes, followed by what seems to be a Zen teaching but turns out to be a fake story glorifying the people’s Great Leader, Tito. (He is living ‘in the heart of the trees’, so how could he not live in the hearts of his people?) The episodes of a Serbian girl’s life are completed by a German personal history of communist-killer grandfather and a family document of Arian origin. (‘You never know.’) The absurdity of it all doesn’t stop the two players from following their individual patterns of blame, anger and remorse – with occasional flickers of happiness, when bad memories seem like a joke, something to be dismissed with a wave.

A variety of objects are used to assist us on this guided tour of recent history: the small statue-head of Tito, devaluated bank notes from Yugoslavia and Serbia, photos from the time of the war(s),a German soldier’s helmet, pages of newspapers – anything and everything from the Bad Days That Are Over but Still With Us in Many Ways. These objects are taken from two cardboard boxes on the side of the stage and are used freely, just as the single table and chair set in the left center: the game knows no limits, wounded freedom-fighters turn into careless children or lovers imitating mechanic sex by the rhythm of nostalgic folk-pop as the lyrics appear as subtitles on the back screen.

Movement, images words and sounds are inseparable, everything serves the function of drawing the portrait of these two people and their time – which is our time, we are left with no illusions about that. Mitrovic manages to convey her vision on stage (she is ‘there’ in every sense), while Stechmann plays the quiet counterpart (perhaps too quiet, in comparison). The piece duly ends with the two performers chanting, crying and screaming football anthems (one in Serbian, the other is German), ending in a dissonant note of sarcasm.

Serbia-Germany 2:2, we hear from a radio commentator. And isn’t he right?